Q: “I cheated. Do I confess my sins in the interest of honesty? Or keep it to myself to avoid hurting her?”

A: Let’s talk about how to approach this conversation, because YES. You absolutely have to tell her you cheated. You’re not sparing her by keeping this a secret, and don’t mistake the inevitable confrontation and tears as signs you did the wrong thing, either. I know men fear outbursts and crying, but women fear being lied to. Not only do you owe it to your girlfriend to man up and be honest, but you should also never live under a lie’s ugly pretense. That will stunt any relationship, and backfire when your discretion comes to light.

Now, about that conversation: Be very careful. Think about exactly what you need to say and how you need to say it. There is no excuse for cheating, so don’t issue one. You can’t reason away philandering. Don’t shower her with flowers and chocolates, grand gestures and lavish proclamations of love, which will only come off hollow and phony. You can’t buy or talk your way out of this. It’s not a quick fix. Prepare to put in time, however much it takes.

“For the actual confession, make sure you meet in a neutral place where you can really talk, like over brunch or at a coffee shop,” says Match.com relationship expert Whitney Casey. “Keep it in the day, at a place where you have no emotional ties to.”

Be totally honest, but don’t over-divulge every itty, bitty fact. Unnecessary details are like punches in the stomach. Be gentle. This is not about you anymore. This is about your girlfriend needing to know the truth—in the softest way possible. She’s going to have a whole host of questions: why you did it, who you cheated with, when it happened, and so on. This is where you spare her feelings. “The devil really is in the details,” Casey says. “They won’t help her heal. All you can do is apologize and tell her how awful you feel for hurting her. This is your time to say you've messed up and want to move on, together.”

Then, it’ll be up to her to decide if she stays or leaves.

Cheating is often the result of a breakdown in communication about a couple’s issues. If she does stick around, work on opening up a better dialogue with your girlfriend—and consider yourself one lucky man. Appreciate what a huge gift she is giving you… and do not betray her twice.

About the Hot Girl: Claire Austen is a 20-something freelance writer, sports enthusiast, and polka-dot-lovin’ everygirl trying to bridge the gap between what men know about women and what women wish men knew. She gives smart, super-honest advice about your biggest dating and relationship conundrums.